The Folly of Moderation and the alcoholism label

Ya know, no one ever came up to me and said “Daniel, you are an alcoholic. You need to stop drinking.”

Often people told me “Daniel, I think you drink too much- you just need to drink a little less.”

The idea of moderation is one that is purveyed so openly and freely in society. It’s even on nearly every container of alcohol: “enjoy responsibly.” Not exactly a stern warning. Its more indicative of a stated fact. You can enjoy this responsibly.

Moderation is synonymous with control and responsibility. The inability to moderate indicates a loss of control or lack of being responsible.

The sneaky part behind this statement is that as much as we accept that we can enjoy alcohol responsibly we equally accept that in imbibing, we will at some point lose control and lack being responsible. Because that’s an expectation of alcohol use, over indulgence is accepted as an occasional occurrence- but the ultimate goal is to be able to imbibe responsibly without losing control.

Abstinence is rarely considered. Abstinence is reserved for those who “can’t drink.”  Abstinence is reserved for those who are being punished for not being able to drink like a “normal” person. Like, they want to, but they can’t. No one would chose to not drink, right?

Recovering alcoholics are those who “can’t” drink.

I say that I am a recovering alcoholic, but many have stepped away from this terminology because they feel like its damaging.

I couldn’t agree more.

However, self-identifying as an alcoholic has achieved two things for me that I personally believe have been helpful.

First and foremost (and actually playing into the damaging idea of the label “alcoholic”) by self-identifying as an alcoholic- I labeled my addiction to alcohol as severe. Once I did this and accepted it in my mind- then getting to work on fixing it became much easier. I say that I play to the damaging idea of the label of alcoholic here, because prior to applying that label, in my mind it seemed that my trouble with alcohol was merely a moderation problem. Until I called myself an alcoholic, I believed that alcohol could still exist in my world- if I found the magic key to somehow control my intake.

I mean, I wasn’t a stereotypical alcoholic, so I should be able to moderate, right? I never had been in trouble with the law, I maintained a good job, I had graduate degree, and house and a wife and 3 beautiful kids- how could I be an alcoholic?

The second reason I identify as an alcoholic- is to smash the ideas that I just wrote about. You can have all of those things and still have an addiction to alcohol.

So how did I come to realize that I was addicted to alcohol? I tried to quit. When I saw how hard it was to quit and when I failed (many times) to stay sober, I realized I was utterly addicted. It was in taking alcohol away, that I was truly able to see how it dictated nearly every facet of my life. It was in taking it away that I began to see the subtle misery it was causing.

Addiction is a funny disease, its a disease that tricks you into thinking you don’t have a disease. It fools us into thinking, “I am cured. I can drink again. I can control it now.” I’ve had this thought before, even recently. Then I remember how it will play out. There is no such thing as moderation for me, because in the back of my mind, I really just want to be able to drink every damn day. There is nothing moderate about that. I could never just occasionally enjoy a single beer. As soon as it hits me, all bets are off.

I think this is an important message going into the Holidays, don’t be fooled by the idea of moderation. Don’t fall prey to the “I’ll only drink on special occasions” trap. You and I both know that it won’t stop there.

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